Monarch of the Seas, 4-night Mexico, 14 July 2008
This cruise was a special birthday celebration for my mother-in-law (Mary), who invited her entire family (a party of 13) on a 4-night Mexico cruise. It was a wonderful opportunity for her to spend time with her sons and grandchildren, as not all of them live locally in the Los Angeles area.
Booking. We booked the cruise in May 2008 through Costco Travel. Costco provided a $75 per stateroom credit on our category SO (Superior Oceanview) staterooms. In addition to the cruise fare, there was also a $5/day per person fuel surcharge, which added up to $20/person for the cruise. Due to the size of the party and the fact my mother-in-law is elderly, we purchased cruise care ($31/person). Fortunately, we never had to use it.
Pre-cruise. As the cruise left from Los Angeles (San Pedro), we drove to the port and parked in the lot across from the cruise terminal. Parking was $48 ($12/day), payable only in cash.
The Ship. Monarch is a Sovereign-class vessel. We had sailed on Monarch for a 3-night cruise shortly after her major refurbishment in 2003. The ship is still in good condition, with a fresh coat of exterior paint. The only item we noticed was somewhat worn were some carpet treads on the forward stairs. Having sailed just 3 weeks prior on Brilliance of the Seas in the Mediterranean, the differences between the Sovereign and Radiance class vessels seemed more striking this time. For example, the higher ceiling heights, 12-story Centrum (vs. 5-story), 2-story dining room, and theater (vs. lounge arrangement) on Brilliance.
Cabin. Our cabin was 9578, a category SO stateroom (port, aft). The stateroom was in good condition. Deck 9 staterooms overlook the tops of lifeboats, which are mounted between Decks 8 and 9. As such, the view is considered partially obstructed. Only Deck 10 staterooms on Monarch have balconies.
Food. Menus were surprisingly similar to some of the days on our cruise on Brilliance in the Mediterranean. We typically ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer, which on Monarch has two main buffet areas (the main area and a smaller one forward in the Jade restaurant). Food quality was good, although the desserts were definitely better on Brilliance. Service in the dining room (Lucas and Valente) was up to its typically high standards. Our party was originally seated on 3 adjacent tables. The head waiter had our three tables reconfigured to one large table each evening, a very nice touch.
Mary had room service breakfast daily. There was a problem where it didn't get delivered on one day. Fortunately, one of her granddaughters was going to breakfast at the same time, so she went along with her instead. The cruise line sent Mary a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of wine as an apology for the problem. It was an unexpected and appreciated gesture.
Day 1 - Los Angeles (San Pedro). Embarkation was quick and efficient. We had printed our Set Sail pass before arriving at the cruise terminal and made use of the Diamond/Platinum check-in line and priority boarding to quickly board the ship. Our baggage arrived within minutes after we arrived at our staterooms. The Windjammer Buffet was open for lunch. I purchased a soda package ($24 + 15%) and had guest relations apply our $15 in Royal WiFi credit from our Crown & Anchor coupon book (about 25 minutes of access time). I was able to use my company (Cisco VPN) card using UDP/IP instead of TCP/IP for transport. There was GSM/GPRS service for GSM (Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile) calls and BlackBerry service.
The first evening's entertainment was the Welcome Aboard show including John Wing, a comedian.
Day 2 - San Diego. We were in port (docked) from 8 am to 5 pm. Some in our party took the combination Bay Cruise and USS Midway tour. The Bay Cruise ended up being longer than expected - good from the standpoint that they saw both the north and south parts of the Bay; bad from the standpoint that everyone got sunburned from being outside longer than expected. But everyone enjoyed the excursion. Just a note - the USS Midway is not air conditioned below decks; there were a few complaints about the heat and humidity below deck.
The 2nd evening's entertainment was the first of two production shows - Signed, Sealed, Delivered - a Motown feel. The show was good, but the vocals from the singers seemed to be drowned out by the background music. I often had difficulty understanding the lyrics. I don't know if the problem was a sound problem or one with the acoustics of the lounge, but it really impacted enjoyment of the show.
Dinner was the formal night of the cruise. The Casino was non-smoking that evening, which made gambling very pleasant (winning made it even more pleasant!).
Day 3 - Catalina. We were in port (tendered) from 8 am to 5 pm. Tenders ran every half-hour. There was a 200 person tender and a 600 person tender. At some point, one tender was delayed terribly by congestion in the harbor and ended up waiting for nearly 20+ minutes to get docked. Needless to say, this created a large backup of guests on the ship. Otherwise, the tender process was smooth. We went into town, did a little shopping, and played miniature golf at the vintage course, which was a lot of fun.
The evening's entertainment was Martin Lewis, a magician. He was excellent - definitely a don't miss experience. That evening was also the Love and Marriage Game Show and the Chocolate Buffet. The Chocolate Buffet was supposed to have viewing at 11:30 pm, but people were lined up and consuming (heavily) by 11:20 pm. The buffet was very nice, with a good selection of desserts and fruit. We took a plate back to our room to consume.
Day 4 - Ensenada. We were in port (docked) from 8 am to 5 pm. Having seen Ensenada on our 3-night back in 2003, we weren't planning to get off the ship. We ended up getting off the ship to look for birthday cards (they were all out in the Centrum shops). We were successful, but Ensenada definitely ranks low on port desirability. I can understand why Mariner will be sailing the Mexican Riviera ports when Monarch departs Los Angeles for the Bahamas this October. It would be great if Royal Caribbean could offer San Diego and Catalina along with some port in Mexico other than Ensenada. San Diego and Catalina are great ports to visit.
The evening's entertainment was the second of two production shows - Can't Stop the Beat, followed by the Farewell Show. The production show was awesome. The numbers were fresh, well executed, and captivating. I only noticed the sound problem from the first night in 1 or 2 numbers. I highly recommend the show. It is a full-length production show, on top of which is the standard Farewell Show. This was Cruise Director Chris Northey's last cruise on the Monarch of the Seas, as he was departing the ship after this voyage.
Day 5 - Los Angeles (San Pedro). The first groups (Express Departure) left the ship just after 6:30 am. We left the ship just after 8 am. The lines for US Residents were long for immigration, but we got through in about 30 minutes and left the cruise terminal by 9 am.
The cruise just zoomed by. Several members of our party had never cruised before, and I think they got hooked on the cruise thing. Everyone had a great time, and Mary especially enjoyed the nightly dinners with her entire family. We also purchased a large number of really terrific photos taken by the ship's photographers to remember the cruise. It was a really special experience and another great cruise on Royal Caribbean, made even more special by the little unexpected touches by the staff of the Monarch of the Seas.